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Osteoarthritis and Its Management

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Osteoarthritis and Its Management

4 min read


Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of joint pain in older adults. This article helps you understand its symptoms and treatment options.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. K. Shobana

Published At May 26, 2016
Reviewed AtNovember 2, 2022


Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease in which there is decreased production of hyaline cartilage, a protective cushion in the knee joint, and also decreased production of lubricant called synovial fluid. As the cushion tissue between the bones decreases, the upper and the lower bones of the legs touch each other causing friction. This starts damaging the surface and slowly erodes the bony tissue.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?

The most common symptoms are:

  1. Deep achy joint pains exacerbated by excessive use. This is the primary symptom of osteoarthritis. Therefore squatting, climbing up and down the stairs, and lifting heavy weights are to be avoided.

  2. The mobility of the joint decreases greatly, and crackling noises are heard during movement.

  3. The affected joint may become stiff in the morning.

What Is the Cause of Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is believed to occur due to deterioration of the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones of the joint. Cartilage is a slippery, firm tissue that ensures frictionless joint motion. If the cartilage wears down completely, the bones rub against each other. Generally, osteoarthritis is referred to as a wear and tear condition. It affects the entire joint, besides affecting the cartilage. It causes changes in the bone and damages the connective tissues holding the joints together and attaching the muscles to the bone. Osteoarthritis can also cause inflammation of the lining of the joint.

What Are the Risk Factors for Osteoarthritis?

People of all races and both sexes are equally affected by osteoarthritis. Generally, it occurs in people of age 40 and above. Nonetheless, it can occur sooner if the people have other risk factors or conditions that increase the risk of getting osteoarthritis. Risk factors include:

  • Obesity - Excess weight puts more stress on joints, which increases the risk of osteoarthritis in that joint. Obesity can also have systemic effects that increase the risk of osteoarthritis.

  • Older Age - The chances of developing osteoarthritis increase with age.

  • Genetics - People with family members suffering from osteoarthritis have greater chances of developing the condition than the ones without the family history of this condition. Those who have hand osteoarthritis are more likely to have knee osteoarthritis.

  • Joint Deformities - Deformities of joints such as bowlegs, unequal leg length, or knocked knees increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis.

  • History of Traumatic Joint Injury or Repetitive Use of Joints - Injury or overuse like knee bending and repetitive stress on a joint can cause damage to the joint and increase the chances of developing osteoarthritis.

How to Diagnose Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis can be diagnosed by physical examination, X-rays, and laboratory tests. During the physical examination, the doctor will check the affected joint for swelling, tenderness, redness, and flexibility. The other tests include:

  • X-rays - X-rays show cartilage loss by narrowing of space between the bones in the joint.

  • MRI (Magnetic Imaging Resonance) - An MRI is not commonly used in diagnosing osteoarthritis but can help in complex cases. This test uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to create a detailed image of bone and soft tissues, including cartilage.

  • Blood Test - There is no blood test to diagnose osteoarthritis, but it can help in ruling out other conditions causing joint pain.

  • Joint Fluid Analysis - A needle is used to draw fluid from the affected joint and sent for testing. This is done to check for inflammation and to know whether the pain is caused by an infection or gout rather than osteoarthritis.

What Are the Treatment Options for Osteoarthritis?

There is no treatment yet that can be helpful in reversing joint damage due to osteoarthritis. The treatment plan focuses on reducing pain and improving the functioning of the affected joints. The best way to overcome the problem is to build a good mass of muscles around the joint as these muscles encircle the joint and provide stability to the joint and thereby decrease the pain by more than 50 %. The treatment options include:

  • Physical Measures - Start physical exercises for the specific joint that has been affected. Weight loss and physical exercise are useful in cases of osteoarthritis. The patients should expose themselves to early morning sunlight for 10 to 15 minutes. Extra weight puts stress on the knee joints, hips, and lower back. Exercise improves muscle strength, lowers the chances of disability due to osteoarthritis, and decreases joint pain and stiffness. Support devices such as a walking cane or orthotics are also helpful in performing daily activities. Cold or heat therapy can be helpful in relieving pain and other symptoms. Alternative treatments such as massage, spa, and chiropractic manipulation are also helpful in relieving pain for a short period of time.

  • Medications - Medications include oral, and topical medications, and injections. Topical drugs can be applied directly to the skin over the affected joints. Topical use of pain ointments may help temporarily. These drugs include Lidocaine gel, Capsaicin cream, and Diclofenac gel. Oral pain killers like Acetaminophen are the first choice of treatment. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are given to reduce swelling and pain. Patients with severe pain need stronger medications, like prescription narcotics. Joint injections with a form of lubricant named hyaluronic acid or with corticosteroids can be given to relieve pain from osteoarthritis. These injection shots can delay the need for knee replacement by a few years in some cases.

  • Supplements - A lot of over-the-counter supplements are used for osteoarthritis treatment. Patients are recommended to take calcium, vitamin D, and fatty acid tablets once a day.

  • Surgery - Surgical treatment is an option in severe cases of osteoarthritis. This includes the cases where the medical treatment could not relieve pain and other symptoms and when the joint has serious damage or the patient has a major loss of function. One of the surgical options is arthroscopy. Arthroscopy is a less invasive procedure in which the repair is done through small incisions or cuts. When the joint damage is not repairable, then joint replacement is the option.


Osteoarthritis is a condition of joints affecting millions of people worldwide. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, but it commonly affects joints in the hands, hips, knees, and spine. Although the joint damage is irreversible, the symptoms of this condition can be managed. Maintaining a healthy weight, staying active and proper treatment can slow the progression of the disorder and help in relieving the symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Stages of Osteoarthritis?

The stages of osteoarthritis are categorized as the following.
- Stage 0 – Normal. It refers to the normal joints where there are no damage.
- Stage 1 – Minor.
- Stage 2 – Mild.
- Stage 3 – Moderate.
- Stage 4 – Severe.


What Is the Treatment for Osteoarthritis?

The treatment for osteoarthritis includes the following.
- Medications, such as analgesics and anti-inflammatory agents, are known to be helpful.
- Physiotherapy exercises are also known to be effective.
- Acupuncture is the best treatment method for osteoarthritis.
- In severe cases, the patient is advised for surgical procedures.


What Is the Difference Between Arthritis and Osteoarthritis?

Arthritis is a term that generally refers to any type of inflammation in joints. Osteoarthritis refers to any type of degenerative disease of the joint disease. This condition is known to affect the cartilage of the joints, knees, hips, and spine.


What Is the Main Cause of Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis occurs due to wear and tear in the cartilage. People who are obese are known to be affected more than others. Repeated stress on the joints can also be the cause. Genetic factors are also a cause in some patients.


What Is the Best Vitamin for Osteoarthritis?

Vitamin D is the best for osteoarthritis. A deficiency of vitamin D can result in osteoarthritis. There are several other supplements that are recommended for osteoarthritis. You should talk to your doctor before taking these supplements.


Does Walking Worsen Osteoarthritis?

If you are an obese person, then walking would be recommended to you for overcoming the obese condition. Otherwise, walking is not good for you as it might increase the load on your knees. If you are suffering from osteoarthritis of the hip or back, then walking can aggravate the condition.


Is Osteoarthritis a Disability?

A condition is categorized as a disability if it causes a restriction in the movements of the joints. Depending on the degree of limitation of daily activities, the severity of the condition is identified. If you are suffering from osteoarthritis for a long time, you should consult your doctor.


What Happens if Osteoarthritis Is Left Untreated?

If osteoarthritis is left untreated, then it can lead to severe disabilities. It is a notable degenerative condition of the joints. The mortality rate from osteoarthritis is low. However, before it develops into a life-threatening one, it is necessary to get medical help.


How Can I Reverse Osteoarthritis?

It is possible to reverse the osteoarthritis condition if proper treatment is planned. The following medications are helpful in reversing the osteoarthritis condition.
- Acetaminophen.
- Duloxetine.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.


What Foods Are Bad for Osteoarthritis?

The following foods are bad for osteoarthritis, and it should be avoided.
Sugar. This includes cookies, cakes, and bakery items.
- Fried food.
- White flour.
- Omega-6 fatty acids.
- Dairy products.


Does Caffeine Affect Osteoarthritis?

Medical researchers suggest that coffee can have a negative effect on Osteoarthritis conditions. It is known to cause weakness in the joints. If you are a regular consumer of coffee, you must reduce your coffee intake so that the condition of osteoarthritis can be cured.


Why Is Osteoarthritis So Painful?

Osteoarthritis is very painful because it causes the joints to lose its stiffness. In the long run, the elasticity of the cartilage is also lost. As a result, the ligaments and tendons stretch a lot and will result in severe pain.


What Is End Stage Osteoarthritis?

In end-stage osteoarthritis, the contact of the bones in the joint is lost. There is complete damage to the articular cartilage. The patients have a complete loss of function, and they find it hard to move. It is good to treat osteoarthritis before it reaches the end-stage.


Does Osteoarthritis Hurt All the Time?

The pain associated with osteoarthritis is never constant. It can be continuous or intermittent. It can happen after walking for a long time, or it can also occur if the person stays in the same place.


What Is Osteoarthritis Pain Like?

Osteoarthritis pain is very sharp. It is aggravated by movements of the joints. The joints can be accompanied by swelling and tenderness. If the pain persists for a very long time, consult your doctor immediately.
Dr. Mir Osman Ali
Dr. Mir Osman Ali

General Practitioner


joint stiffnessosteoarthritisjoint paindegenerative joint diseasecalcium supplements
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